IJMA3 Leads the Call from the Middle East ICT Community: Safeguard Egypt's Internet

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IJMA3, the voice of the Middle East ICT industry, raises concerns that the Egyptian government's decision to block the nation's internet connectivity as a result of the ongoing civilian protests could have long-term implications for the region's progress.

This week, in an unparalleled attack on the country’s communication apparatus, the Egyptian Government completely severed all internet connectivity as peaceful protests got underway. Four of the nation’s five ISPs went down over a week ago, on the first day of the uprising. Noor.net, a minor player on Cairo’s internet stage, remained active as it provided service to the city’s stock exchange. After this exchange tumbled, and consequently closed, this ISP also ceased to operate. SMS service was also suspended for the entire week; even cellular networks were cut off for part of the time.

On behalf of the regional ICT industry, IJMA3 urges the Egyptian Government to fully and immediately ensure complete connectivity.

According to Nizar Zakka, IJMA3's Secretary General, "Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury; it is a lifeblood of a society’s successful functioning. Cutting off the internet makes as much sense as cutting off a city’s water supply. In the strongest possible terms, IJMA3 deplores the actions of the Egyptian Government." While on February 2nd, the Internet was partially restored, the precedent of closing it may have longer-term ramifications.

The unparalleled actions of the Egyptian Government are remarkable in light of the encouraging role that the Government has traditionally played regarding the ICT industry. Recently deposed Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was formerly the ICT Minister, and played an instrumental role in providing free connectivity through dial-up, world-class paid-connectivity services, and low tariffs on ICT imports.

As a result of these impressive efforts, Egypt’s population, particularly its youth, are ICT literate, and Egypt has a dynamic and active ICT industry. Moreover, these ICT capabilities drive forward innovation and creativity in a host of other related industries. As a sign of the ICT literacy of its Egypt’s youth, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook played an effective role in the run up to these protests.

The internet is no longer a niche service, but rather an integrated and essential element of every aspect of daily life. Zakka asserts that cutting off service, in the way that Egypt has done, is no longer an option in a civilized society. "The experience in Iran taught us that the internet and social media tools can play an essential role in driving and shaping effective political discourse," he said. "Egypt has now taught us that this clock cannot be turned back. Progress is a one way street. Denying citizens ICT tools is no longer an option. As Egypt has painfully discovered, severing ICT services represents a breach of trust that cannot be made right."

According to Zakka, those governments thinking of trying a similar approach, should let the lessons of Egypt be engrained. Connectivity, like water and air, must no longer be denied.

IJMA3 is an international non-governmental non-profit organization headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon and with offices in Baghdad and Washington DC, USA consisting of a consortium of more than 16 national ICT association members from countries across the MENA region.

As the regional voice of the ICT industry, IJMA3 is dedicated to advocating policies that advance the industry's growth and development; facilitating international trade and investment in ICT products and services; and harnessing ICT toward the fulfillment of critical regional development challenges. IJMA3 is a member of, and regional representative for the MENA and Central Asia regions for, the World IT and Services Alliance (WITSA), an international body representing the interests of the ICT industry globally, for which IJMA3’s Secretary-General serves as a Vice Chairman of WITSA. IJMA3 maintains a close working relationship with the premier U.S. ICT industry association, TechAmerica, and the two organizations are partnering at the moment in creating the federation of Caribbean ICT association. IJMA3 works closely with key regional and global ICT companies, and are able to quickly leverage private sector voices toward program activities.

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